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‘It paid off today’: York9’s set-piece drills yield results in CanChamp win
Canadian Premier League

YORK REGION – Three corner kicks, three commanding headers, three goals.

York9 FC scored the same way three times on Wednesday night as they took a 3-1 lead in their Canadian Championship QR2 tie with FC Edmonton.

First, it was Ryan Telfer to Luca Gasparotto. Then, was Kyle Porter to Rodrigo Gattas. And then, Porter again, this time to Simon Adjei. Three of the five corners awarded to York9 ended up in the back of the net, in almost identical fashion.

According to Nine Stripes boss Jimmy Brennan, this was no stroke of luck.

“All week we’ve been focusing on our set plays, for and against,” said Brennan. “It paid off today.”

That York9 would want to refine their defensive dead ball strategy makes sense; before today, five of their eight conceded goals had come off set-pieces. Of course, when defenders practice defending a corner, the attackers are practicing scoring off them. That, perhaps, played a role in York9’s trifecta of carbon-copy goals.

FC Edmonton’s defenders were shaking their heads every time, frustrated to have missed their assignments in the box.

“We’re one of the stronger teams when it comes to defending set pieces, we just switched off,” admitted Kareem Moses, playing centre-back on Wednesday for the Eddies.

“We’re going to watch video, we’re going to do better — we have to do better. We let ourselves down by conceding three goals when (York9) didn’t do anything to deserve three goals.”

Surely it was a little of both. Brennan was quick to praise the determination Gasparotto, Gattas, and Adjei showed to fight off their markers and jump high enough to finish. Still, questions should be asked of FCE’s defenders, who were particularly absent on the latter two goals.

Aside from set-pieces, the Nine Stripes are satisfied to finally see their training-pitch efforts producing tangible results.

“We’ve been close now for a couple weeks,” Gasparotto said. “We can play with anybody in this league. We’re just going to keep going in the right direction now, I think we’ve got the monkey off our back.”

After York9’s captain, Manny Aparicio, proclaimed last week that his side weren’t going to compromise their intended style of play to nick a few results, Brennan was happy to see some glimpses of that style on Wednesday.

“You’re slowly starting to see who we are as a team now,” he said.

“We do a lot of work on the training pitch with the way that we want to play, and you saw quite a bit of it today.”

Brennan was especially pleased with York9’s 60 percent possession in the first half, which was easily the most dominant his side has been at any point this season. Ultimately, he admitted there’s a ton of work still to be done; at moments in the late second half, the home side were hanging onto their two-goal lead by a thread, and they were perhaps lucky to see FCE’s second goal disallowed.

“The players are actually playing with a smile on their face,” added Brennan. Indeed, it’s much easier to stay committed to a system of play when it’s producing results.

Thanks to their set-piece drilling, York9 are now in the driver’s seat in this CanChamp tie, but the challenge next week will be to lock out the Eddies at Clarke Field.

“We’ve put ourselves in a great position tonight,” said Gasparotto. “Now we have to go and finish it next week.”